About this article: Agencies have a great opportunity to build upon the local footprint they have developed using traditional methods by adding digital components to their marketing plans. This article outlines three powerful online marketing strategies that agencies can employ at little or no cost to extend the strong local presence they have developed to online prospects. Carriers, too, have developed tools to help agencies understand and implement these online tools.
by Matt Marko
For agencies that have spent years, decades, even generations building a local footprint with traditional marketing tools, it can be understandably daunting to hear so many in the media assert that success in today’s marketplace now requires extensive e-marketing expertise and a dynamic online presence. The good news: many of the techniques agents have long used to thrive in their communities are still relevant. They also have clear parallels in the digital space and, in many cases, their online counterparts are easy to implement and measure. Understand the connection, and you can use what you already know to master these new online tactics.
This article outlines some important strategies you can employ to add powerful digital marketing components to your traditional marketing plan and navigate easily from what you already know to these digital tools.
Yellow Pages and Local Search
The Yellow Pages Association reports that there are 900 million Yellow Page print references every month. The online equivalent? Local search. ComScore estimates that in March 2011 there were nearly 17 billion searches on all major search engines. With Google having released estimates that local search represents 20% of their search volume and Bing reporting 53% of its mobile searches have local intent, the opportunity for small businesses is immense.
When a consumer searches online for insurance, how your agency ranks in the local results makes all the difference. According to Chikita research, if you make the top three listings, your agency shares 63% of the traffic. Land in the bottom seven and that number drops to 32% (and only 5% of searchers continue to the second page of results). Yet only a fraction of independent agents have taken the first step to benefiting from this free service
That first and most important step is proactively claiming and verifying your online listings. Progressive offers a listing management program, called ListAgent, to help claim and keep your listings relevant, maintained and optimized for less than $100/year. There are also free do-it-yourself options like getlisted.org that audit how effectively your agency has claimed its local search listings and allow you to create listings with each of the primary search engines from one website.
Just as a variety of factors (ad size, color, content) influence the success of your Yellow Page print ad, several elements affect your local search ranking. Keep your listings consistent across search engines by using your official business name and avoiding abbreviations, generate as many consistent citations (online references to your business) as you can among search engines, eliminate duplicate listings, and be sure to include as much relevant content as possible, including your agency address, phone number, email, website, photos, and business details. Finally, create a strategy for getting your customers to review your business online.
Word-of-Mouth and Online Review
It’s no secret that a leading driver of new business is a happy customer. For agencies that have nurtured word-of-mouth referrals from their customers (and for agencies that simply see the results walking through the door), encouraging your customers to share their feedback online isan easy way to amplify their voice. Asking Facebook fans and LinkedIn connections to recommend your agency to their social networks is the clearest bridge between traditional and digital referral tactics, but online reviews on sites like Google Places, Citysearch, Yelp and Insider Pages have additional advantages—not only can they boost your local search visibility, they can sway strangers as well.
In fact, according to BrightLocal, 70 percent of consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. This is especially true in the insurance industry, where 57 percent of consumers said their insurance purchase was influenced by reviews—more than websites, TV or radio advertising. Search engines like Google and Yahoo prominently display reviews in their query results, yet Progressive’s research on online referrals found that our independent agents
have, on average, just .3 reviews on their online listings.
If you’re not currently soliciting online reviews from your customers, try adding requests to your customer communications. Develop email templates that you can easily customize and send with links to review sites. Again, your carriers may be able to help you here by having email templates for you to use, as Progressive has done. You can also add links to your website and customer newsletters
Don’t worry if a couple of negative reviews turn up with the positive. A 2011 Lightspeed Research study found that only four percent of shoppers change their mind about a service after reading one bad review, and only 25 percent of consumers change their mind after reading two.
Plus, you can frequently turn bad reviews around by simply responding. A January 2011 Harris survey discovered that 33% of customers who received a response from a company after posting a negative review followed it up with a positive review, and 34% deleted their original post.
Print Ad and Tile Ad
Finally, as newspaper readership declines and more consumers get their news from the web and social media, online advertising may offer your agency additional bang for the marketing buck. While banner ads on your local paper’s website are an alternative worth exploring, sites like Facebook give you pinpoint targeting options that print and online publications cannot. Using Facebook, you can create and publish an ad yourself in minutes, and unlike traditional media, you can hand-select an audience most likely to respond to your message using the information Facebook users list about themselves, including zip code, age, gender, marital status, even hobbies, interests, and associations. A hyper-targeted ad means less waste, and Facebook provides detailed metrics that enable you to quickly test executions and adjust as needed during the campaign. Best of all, you can pay per click or impression, and set budgets by day or campaign. To make the process even easier, your carriers may provide you with resources to help you with online advertising. Progressive, for example, offers illustrated how-to guides on creating Facebook ads and contests on its agent marketing website.
It’s true that the market and the customer are evolving, but there are easy ways to apply what you already know to succeed in online marketing. You don’t need special skills or an expensive consultant to take the first steps forward; just a basic understanding of what’s out there, a willingness to explore, and a few trusted resources to help you along the way.
Editor’s Note: Please visit the ACT website (www.iiaba.net/act ) and click on the “Websites & Social Media” and “Sales & Marketing” links for additional articles, recorded webinars and resources to help agencies develop their digital marketing plans.
Matthew Marko is Marketing Manager for Progressive Insurance. He works to provide local marketing strategies, tools and co-branded collateral to help independent agencies grow their businesses. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org . Matt prepared this article for ACT. For more information about ACT, contact Jeff Yates, ACT Executive Director at email@example.com . This article reflects the views of the author and should not be construed as an official statement by ACT.